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Misconceptions, False Assumptions: Living Unconsciously

cultural-awarenessOn March 31st, the U.S. Army rolled out Army Regulation 670-1, which addresses unauthorized hairstyles; many of which are popular among African American women for example cornrows, twists, and braids. As a woman with chemical free hair, also known as “natural” hair, I was shocked when this news came across my iPhone timeline. Many believe the new grooming guidelines are insensitive to women with natural hair and pin points the African American community. The U.S. Army can be depicted as having a lack of cultural sensitivity, offensive, or biased. Michelle LeBaron (2003) suggests, “Culture is an essential part of conflict and conflict resolution. Cultures are like underground rivers that run through our lives and relationships, giving us messages that shape our perceptions, attributions, judgments, and ideas of self and other. Though cultures are powerful, they are often unconscious, influencing conflict and attempts to resolve conflict in imperceptible ways”. The conflict between the U.S. Army and African American women in the army is just one of many cultural mishaps occurring in today’s world. As a society with an abundance presence of diversity how does one become culturally aware so not to offend?

Culture awareness is being thoughtful and mindful of one another’s cultural values, beliefs, perceptions, body image (clothing, hair, and jewelry), religion, race, language, etc. As a stepping stone to become more culturally aware I would suggest first understanding the definition of culture. Second, be conscious of the assumptions you make about another. Misconceptions do not allow you to see the person for who they are, but for what you assume they are. These false assumptions can perhaps create conflict. For example, my husband told me about a time where he entered the school office and said “good morning” to everyone and noticed one of the young lady’s did not speak back. The second and third day he did the same thing; still no response from the young lady. As a result, he felt disrespected and perceived the young lady as rude and ill-mannered. In speaking with a friend, he learned her culture did not allow for speaking to the opposite sex. This was an eye opener for my husband and me as neither of us had been aware of such.

As a result of the previous cultural misunderstanding, I have come up with three ways to better ourselves and become more culturally aware – (1) be open to learning about other cultures (2) establish a diverse networking group; and (3) ask questions to gain more understanding. All in all, in a multicultural society it is important to have cultural awareness. Not doing so will only contribute to cultural ignorance. Furthermore, if one is not willing to understand or gain knowledge about another’s culture then there will always be misunderstanding, perceived notions or false assumptions.

“I do not want my house to be walled in on all sides and my windows to be stuffed. I want the cultures of all the lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible. But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any.” Mahatma Gandhi

By Yvette Watson Jenkins
Graduate Student, University of Baltimore – Negotiation and Conflict Management Program

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Cultural Diversity in the Workplace: Speak Up, Speak Out, Speak Now!

Cultural Diversity

Cultural Diversity

Religious wear, cultural dress, racial identification, hairstyles, food, tattoos and piercings are examples of cultural diversity. There is a strong possibility that people in your workplace possess at least one of the aforementioned identities. Unfortunately, different expressions of cultural diversity can be unintentionally offensive to some or intolerable by others in your workplace.  According to Power of Culture,Culture is indeed everywhere. It forms our belief systems, frames perceptions, formulates understandings, and guides behaviors.” How do you address an aspect of cultural diversity that becomes a conflict? What are your company’s policies regarding cultural diversity issues? Who do you discuss this concern with in your organization? Was the form of cultural diversity intentionally offensive? These are questions I recommend you ask.

Diversity is a sensitive issue, and plays a key element in conflict. Because cultural diversity is a part of your individuality, it is symbolic of your identity and it is important for your workplace and employees to understand and respect it. Don’t be afraid to access your power! I too encountered a conflict at my job that involved my cultural identity. I was told by my supervisor to remove my headwear. I was not given a reason as to why I had to remove it. When I approached the supervisor privately and asked why it had to be removed, my supervisor replied, “It just couldn’t be worn here”. The reply was neither respectful nor accurate. I decided to access the employee handbook and refer to the dress code section. The dress code guidelines in regard to religious, cultural and ethnic backgrounds did not correspond to the directions I received from my supervisor when I was asked to remove my headwear. I discretely brought this to the attention of my supervisor and showed that my headwear did not have to be removed. Although my supervisor did not apologize for being wrong or offensive, I was now aware that referring to the Employee Handbook is a valuable resource.

Education and awareness are the most respectful ways to inform yourself and others about cultural diversity and to be culturally sensitive to these differences. For example, you make a comment about the smell of your co-workers food in the break room. Your intent is not to harm but the smell to you, is foul smelling and now your co-worker’s reaction is defensive, as they perceived your comments as offensive. Although you did not intend to hurt his/her feelings YOU DID! It is best for you to address this and for you understand why it is culturally inappropriate.

Here are tips on how to respond to conflict as it relates to honoring your cultural identity.

  1.  Acknowledge your feelings. Remember it’s okay to feel offended and hurt.
  2.  Respond immediately to the conflict privately and professionally. Don’t let the issue linger.
  3. Have a copy of the Employee Handbook and reference it during your workplace conflict.
  4. Communicate. Start with the person who you felt offended by first. Then, if you believe this warrants going to your supervisor or Human Resources for a violation of your rights. There is also the option of accessing mediation services either from within your organization or outside sources such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

 To learn more about cultural diversity and conflict visit Beyond Intractability and The Power of Culture.

 by Tierra Henry, Graduate Student, University of Baltimore Dispute Resolution Program

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“The Choreography of Resolution: Conflict, Movement and Neuroscience.”

Creativity, culture and collaboration are themes that run through Michelle LeBaron’s work. She is an internationally renowned scholar/practitioner, currently serving as a professor of law and Director of Dispute Resolution at the University of British Columbia. Previously, she was a tenured professor of conflict analysis and resolution and women’s studies at George Mason University in Virginia after practicing law and psychotherapy.


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